The media industry and newsrooms in particular continues to be shadowed by various gender disparities despite an increase of women media professionals in the Asia Pacific region. Recognising this UNESCO released a study titled ‘Inside the news: Challenges and aspirations of women journalists in Asia and the Pacific’ yesterday to conceptualise the impact of gender related issues on women and how newsrooms are taking measures to alleviate these issues in the hope of creating a better working environment for all.
When looking at Sri Lanka the study compares the past and present conditions of newsrooms and the media through personal accounts of senior media professionals such as Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai, Sonali Samarasinghe, Dilrukshi Handunnetti and Hana Ibrahim.
Excerpt from the study:
Sri Lanka – Through a female lens
For senior photojournalist and trainer, Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai, the proverbial glass ceiling was visible from the day she commenced her journalistic career on May 1, 1993. Twenty years on, much to her regret, the only improvement she finds in the Tamil language newsrooms is the availability of technology. “There is no qualitative evolution, in skills or in concepts”, she says.
Kanagasabapathipillai entered journalism to do “alternative work” and to cover “sensitive issues that Tamil women were discouraged from touching, even when women were directly and deeply affected”. She began her career as a trainee journalist at the Colombo-based Tamil daily, Virakesari and since then, her professional journey has often brought her into conflict with the male hierarchy and women who reinforce gender stereotypes.
“I was hired after a series of interviews by all-male interview panels. I was asked about my marital status and whether I would quit upon marriage. They asked me whether my family approved of my career choice”, she recalls.
She belonged to a batch of ten, including three men. She was the only woman who wanted to do field reporting but was promptly assigned to translate Reuters copy to Tamil.
“Other women were happy to be desk bound but I was not. So I resisted and wanted to be sent on assignment. Being an open newsroom, there were other problems such as constant bullying of women by men. I was a prime target because I had short hair and constantly wore jeans. It was pointless to complain because this was considered the ‘normal’ newsroom atmosphere.”
Read more of the study here